Here’s a little story I wrote on Monday at Holmfirth Writers Group. The brief we were given was simply “You find a stain …” This is what I made of it.
“Hello, Mr Weston. Is it all right if I come in?”
He looks unenthusiastic.
“It’s nothing to worry about. There are just a few changes to the rental agreement I need to talk through with you. It’ll only take ten minutes.
“Well, OK then, I suppose.”
He stands aside to let me in and I walk through into the living room.
“My word, this place looks spotless!” And it is – there’s not a speck of dust in sight. Everything is neat and tidy. And there is a faint smell of paint in the air. I must admit, this is not what I’ve come to expect of Mr Weston over the years. He is not renowned as the most houseproud of tenants. Perhaps he’s turned over a new leaf?
“Um, yeah. Decided to do a bit of decorating.”
“Good for you. New carpet too, if I’m not much mistaken.” As I recall, the old one was threadbare and covered in coffee stains.
“Yeah, well. In for a penny, in for a pound.”
“Is it OK if I sit down? I’ve got some papers to show you.”
“Sure. He gestures towards a sofa – still the old one, I’m guessing. I sit down.”
“Thank you. As I say, what this is about is that we’re planning some changes to the rental agreement that I wanted to explain to you. They’re all pretty minor – mostly changes to notice periods, that sort of thing. We’re putting them in place across all our properties, so I’m having this conversation with all 43 of our tenants. Been a busy couple of weeks, I can tell you! I’ve got a copy of the draft agreement here. I hand it over to him. He takes it without responding.
“So, I’ll talk you through the changes one by one.”
As I’m explaining the document and what has changed, I can’t help noticing a brown stain, a couple of inches across, on the otherwise pristine blue carpet.
“Oh, that’s a shame,” I say.
“A brand new carpet, and there’s already a stain on it. You must have dropped some beer or something on it, I guess. Always happens that way, doesn’t it? Still, I’m sure you’ll be able to get rid of it with some stain remover.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” He doesn’t say anything more, but I can see that it bothers him.
“Anyway, I think I’ve covered everything. I’ll leave you the copy of the rental agreement to puruse further at your leisure. Feel free to give me a ring if there’s anything you’d like to discuss. Othewise, I’ll come back in a couple of days with another copy for you to sign.”
He nods, and I make my way out.
When I return, two days later, he is expecting me. The flat is still spick and span. And, as I go into the living room, the carpet is now green, not blue. Gosh, that stain must have really annoyed him. But as I’m waiting for him to sign, I happen to glance down at the carpet, and there is still a stain there, same size, same colour, in exactly the same place.
“I hate to say this, Mr Weston, but you’ve got a stain on your new carpet again.”
“What? Oh no!”
This can’t be just coincidence, I’m thinking. I look up at the ceiling and there, directly above the stain on the carpet is another one. I can see a bulb of liquid beginning to form on it.
“There’s your problem, Mr Weston. You’ve obviously got some kind of leak in the loft. A rusted pipe, by the looks of it. Good news for you is that leaks outside the flat itself are the landlord’s responsibility. If that’s what it is, you might even get a refund for your carpet. I’d better go up and have a look. … Mr Weston?”
He is nowhere to be seen. But I can hear some rummaging going on in the kitchen. At last, he returns. For reasons best known to himself, he is carrying a kitchen knife and a hammer.
“I don’t think you should try and fix it yourself, Mr Weston. I’ll call the office and get a plumber in. But first, I need to go up to the loft and have a look.”
As he walks towards me, there is a strange look in his eyes, almost of regret.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” he says.